Review: The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #03) by Y.S. Lee

Form: e-book, Kindle format
Genre: historical fiction
Target audience: YA

Mary Quinn, now a fully fledged operative of the all-female secret Agency, is placed in the Buckingham Palace as a domestic servant to find who has been stealing different trinkets from one of the Queen Victoria’s parlours. If the task sounds easy, rest assured with Mary no assignment is as easy as it looks. When one of the Prince of Wales’s irresponsible young friends is killed in disgraceful circumstances Mary is, surprise, surprise, among few people to know the truth behind that incidents. Should the Queen hush things up or allow justice to take its course? Mary’s interest in this private matter soon becomes deeply personal: the alleged killer, a drug-addicted Chinese sailor, shares a name with her long-lost father. Could it be the same person?
Meanwhile, James Easton’s engineering firm is repairing the sewers beneath Buckingham Palace. Trouble is, there’s a tunnel that’s not on the plans. Its purpose is unclear but it seems to be very much in use. These overlapping puzzles offer a perfect opportunity for Mary and James to work together again… if they can still trust one another. This is Mary’s most personal case yet and she has everything to lose and plenty to gain.
What I liked:

This is one of few YA series that I really appreciate. Usually my main complaint is that the books are too short – I am that smitten. The writing style of Ms. Lee is highly readable, I swallowed this book in less than 24 hours. The pace of narration was great, neither too quick, not too slow, everything happening in the right order.

Of course the biggest asset was Mary Quinn herself. She’s never been one of these ‘too-stupid-to-live’ insipid girls and she’s grown up a lot. Now she faces several personal issues, trying to defeat demons of her past unleashed by a man whose name is the same as that of her long-lost Lascar father. She also falls more and more for James, still being unsure what his reaction might be when he finds out all her secrets. Last time he flinched hearing about Mary’s sad childhood and thievery – what will he say now?

Fortunately James Easton has changed too and for better – he is less sanctimonious, less prickly, more cooperative and eager to kiss Mary every opportunity he has. Their romance comes to a rather happy conclusion at the end but, hopefully, it is still not the end of their common adventures. They can’t marry – not yet anyway and Mary has great plans for the future – with the silent support of the Queen Victoria they even seem realistic!

Finally this is also one of those historical series which has never made me wonder whether the author did her research job. It is very obvious she did. Victorian London, presented here, sounds real and plausible – perhaps some sights and smells would be difficult to tolerate but you would like to visit nevertheless. I am also glad that, in spite of the fact these books are clearly YA, the author never patronizes her readers, mentioning even delicate issues in an honest way. In the previous novel Mary had a small but significant chamber pot problem (how to relieve yourself when you are pretending to be a man and another man is present in the room?); in this one she is even pushed further as one of the villains tries to make her prostitute herself.

The cover art I find nice and appropriate.

What I didn’t like:

I must admit the main criminal puzzle was a little bit less intricate than usual, although still it featured an interesting twist or two. Also the baddies weren’t as interesting as previously. Fortunately the character development of the main heroine overshadowed these slight shortcomings. Oh and the book was too short of course. 😉

Final verdict:

A great novel for light recreational reading which can make you happy and bouncy – it is a YA position but  neither syrupy sweet nor depressing! If only there were more such books…
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